PARIS – One led the elite French police unit that took down an Islamic State cell, another lost a sister in the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris. There is also a computer whizz who started working at age 16, a farmer, a primary school director whose family is known for its sparkling wine, and a journalist who covered conflict in Africa. Their shared goal: to deliver President-elect Emmanuel Macron the parliamentary majority he needs to be effective.
Macron’s Republic on the Move party unveiled on Thursday its eclectic choice of 428 candidates for legislative elections in June — 52 percent of whom are simple citizens, aged 24 to 72, who have never held elected office. Another 148 candidates will be known next week. The party plans to contest 576 of France’s 577 seats in the National Assembly.
One district will remain without a Macron candidate, that of former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
His candidacy was rejected by Macron’s party, but it will not put its own candidate in his district south of Paris to oppose him, the secretary-general of Macron’s party, Richard Ferrand, said at a news conference announcing the lineup, which adheres to the little respected parity law of 50 percent women and 50 percent men.
Valls has held three parliamentary terms, making him ineligible to qualify under the strict terms set out for candidates by Macron’s party.
“We won’t change our criteria, no special treatment … ,” Ferrand said, “but we note the singularity of this prime minister in office in recent years and we don’t seek quarrels with this one or that one.”
The rejection could prove troublesome for Valls who risks expulsion from his Socialist Party for backing Macron.
“Our candidates signal the permanent return of the citizen to the heart of our political life,” said Ferrand, underscoring the “boldness” of the venture for a movement created but 13 months ago.
Like the officer who once led the crack police squad to the computer whizz and the farmer, the novice candidates hope to repopulate the political map of France with new faces and new ideas.
An initial batch of 14 legislative candidates previously announced in April by Macron’s camp gave a taste of how Macron’s grassroots, startup-style movement sought to recruit outside the circle of career politicians.
Among them, Jean-Michel Fauvergue. He commanded the elite Search, Assistance, Intervention and Deterrence (RAID) unit during the 2015 siege in which Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a ring leader of the Paris attacks a few days earlier, was killed.
There is also Claire Tassadit Houd. Her sister, Djamila, was among the 130 killed in the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris attacks, according to the party.
More than 19,000 would-be legislators answered Macron’s call for candidacies. The party asked them to sign up on its website with a resume and letter explaining their motivation to become a lawmaker in the National Assembly.
“I signed up right from the beginning on the website,” Jean-Baptiste Moreau, one of the initial 14, told a news agency on Thursday. The 40-year-old is contesting a seat in the Creuse region of central France where he farms. He says he was drawn by the profile of 39-year-old Macron, who will be France’s youngest president when he takes power Sunday, and by the party’s efforts to incorporate ideas sent from the grassroots into his campaign platform. Moreau is new to elected politics.
“If I’m elected, I don’t want to become a political professional. I’ll serve one or two terms,” he said.
Mireille Robert, the head of a primary school in a village of 1,000 people in the Aude region of southwestern France, will be up against a local Socialist Party heavyweight.
In a phone interview during school lunch break Thursday, she likened herself to women who were on the front lines during the French revolution in 1789. She said one of her main motives for launching into politics under Macron’s banner is fighting the rise in France of the political extremes. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen made the May 7 presidential election runoff for the first time; she was handily beaten by Macron but still achieved the highest-ever score for the National Front, her party with a history of anti-Semitism and racism. In the first-round ballot, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon got nearly 20 percent of the vote.
“I don’t want the extremes for my France. Our backs are against the wall,” 55-year-old Robert told the news agency. “That gives me strength and courage when I think of that.”
In her village of Pieusse, Le Pen got 271 votes last Sunday, five more than Macron’s 266.
“That’s really scary,” she said. “I feel like we are in danger.”
Also new to politics, she said she doesn’t plan to do big campaign rallies reading prepared speeches to bored crowds.
“That’s not me, and it no longer works,” she said.
Instead, she’ll do smaller gatherings to talk about specific local issues. Her family is well-known in the area for its sparkling wine, which she expects will help her pick up support.
“Yes, we can,” she said. “It’s going to be a great experience.”